UN Refugee Agency expresses concern about US expulsion of asylum seekers during COVID-19 pandemic

Published by Brent Patterson on

As Canada aligns its border policies with the United States, the United Nations has expressed concern about the US policy toward migrants during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Guardian reports, “An unprecedented US policy authorizing the summary expulsion of migrants and asylum seekers because of the coronavirus pandemic violates international law, the United Nations has warned.”

The UN Refugee Agency says, “We understand that in the current global Covid-19 public health emergency all governments have an obligation to enact measures to protect the health of their populations. While this may warrant extraordinary measures at borders, expulsion of asylum seekers resulting in refoulement should not be among them.”

Refoulement refers to the forcible return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they are liable to be subjected to persecution.

On March 20, the US federal agency the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ordered the immediate deportation of non-citizens arriving without valid documents.

The Guardian adds, “The order cited an obscure quarantine law to claim the move is justified on public health grounds.”

Between March 20 and April 8, 10,000 people were expelled from the US under this order. The vast majority of those removed were from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

On March 20, the New York Times reported, “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau … said Canada would begin turning back asylum seekers who walk in from the United States outside of official border crossings.”

That article also notes, “[Amnesty International Canada] said Mr. Trudeau’s action was identical to measures used by the United States at its border with Mexico — steps the group views as a violation of international law.”

The Canadian Press has also reported, “Refugee advocates say Canada could be in legal hot water if the United States deports asylum seekers turned away from Canada as part of a broader deal with the U.S. to close the border to all but non-essential traffic.”

“Canada’s international obligations on refugees include a commitment to ‘non-refoulement’ — not sending refugees back to countries where they could face torture or persecution.”

That article adds, “[Amnesty International Canada] says if a refugee turned away by Canada is later deported to a country where they are harmed, Canada could be considered complicit in this outcome and therefore legally liable.”

CTV has reported that the Canada-US agreement on the closure of the border is expected to be renewed and extended to May 31.

Peace Brigades International-Canada has signed this public statement calling on governments at all levels across this country to institute greater human rights oversight of their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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